Walking Blessing That each step may be a shedding. That you will let yourself become lost. That when it looks like you’re going backward, you may be making progress. That progress is not the goal anyway, but presence to the feel of the path on your skin, to the way it reshapes you in each place it makes contact, to the way you cannot see it until the moment you have stepped out. ~Jan Richardson – from in Wisdom’s Path: Discovering the Sacred in Every Season
It’s Saturday morning at Grace Waters, (or any other morning if you are paying attention), and as we look out our kitchen window, my husband and I can see our neighbors walking the perimeter of their ten-acre pasture. They make multiple laps, sometimes together, sometimes heading in opposite directions, until once again they meet in the middle and finish the journey together. We have observed them in this routine for years, in all kinds of weather. Just last weekend it was blowing snow sideways with 40 mph gusts, and there they were, walking without missing a step. In the warmth of our kitchen with a hot breakfast in front of me, I almost envied the wild beauty of it. A rhythm so ingrained by years of practice and faithfulness, that it doesn’t cease despite the inherent days of discomfort. I’ve much to learn.
Though I may not be quite so faithful (inclement weather often keeps me inside), walking has always had a way of centering me. In movement the whirling motion of my mind settles until I am able to breathe and release all thoughts, once again coming to a place of inner stillness. While I enjoy the practice of quiet, contemplative meditation, the act of walking seems to effortlessly unravel the tangled knots in my brain. I resonate with my neighbors’ practice.
This morning as I took a walk in the warm, spring sunshine there was a cool wind blowing, as if to remind me of the slowly fading winter months. No excuses for me not to be out. All at once, I was simultaneously overcome by feelings of unspeakable joy and sorrow. For some reason all of the emotions so many of us have been experiencing throughout this pandemic were ready to spill over. Grief, especially, in that I was also walking without my trusty lab, Trigger, who recently passed away. There in sudden a rush were all the changes, uncertainties and fears that seem to have become a constant.
Then unexpectedly, tears welled in my eyes as I took in the beauty of budding leaves, blooming flowers, and the soft clouds hanging in the brilliant blue expanse above the piney mountains. And despite the griefs, I felt the hope and promise of a new season. Because, despite all of the change and uncertainties, the truth is they are not the constant. For I believe that even with all which seems to point to the contrary, there is only One constant. For just as in God’s created order, day follows night and spring follows winter, God remains sovereign and is speaking peace and healing into the world.
I am put in mind of Elijah as he wandered out to the mountain, filled with dread, fears and uncertainties. At the point of collapse when all hope seemed to be gone, it was there he was tended by an angel of the Lord. After that God met him, coming not in wind, earthquake or fire, but in the sound of sheer silence. In that spirit of peace, Elijah returned from his wandering to the work he had been called to do. [1 Kings 19:11-12].
Life has these rhythms, I think. And, when we have wandered into the wilderness, it is often easy to be hard on ourselves. Which is why, I believe, we must learn the art of extending grace. Grace to ourselves and grace toward others. Additionally, we must also be open to receiving grace, as Elijah did from the Lord and his angel. The gift of walking for me, comes in that spirit of wandering. Like Elijah, it brings me to a place where I can be met by God and where the fullness of creation opens, revealing my place in things.
Another way of walking and wandering that does not take me abroad (neighborhood, beach or mountain) but keeps me in a close, quiet circle, is labyrinth walking. The church where I was formerly pastoring encouraged numerous different spiritual practices. Among them were walking, prayer, and meditation. With that in mind, the congregation built a labyrinth among the pine trees in a quiet corner of the property. It is nothing fancy: a rock-lined path atop layers of fragrant needles, laid out in a Chartres-style pattern, with a basalt rock fountain and sitting stones in the center. I have made many journeys through that labyrinth over the years. In this practice, I began to recognize the pattern in the walking often reflected my own spiritual journey. With each step of the labyrinth there were moments of drawing near to the center and still others taking me further away. Not unlike me in my relationship with God. And yet, in keeping to the path in either journey, I eventually find myself at the center.
As I watch my neighbors in their faithful wandering, I feel a deeper connection to them. I also feel a connection to the wild wanderings of humanity: the Israelites in the wilderness, Elijah…, and all the saints who followed in Christ’s footsteps bringing good news to people far and wide. For I have found blessing and healing in walking, a quiet place where, despite my wanderings, I find my center.
Labyrinth Red shoes tread a circuitous path; ground soft beneath exhales scents of earth's fragrance – pine needles, moss and soil. Despite the dangers of aimless foot, delicate wood flowers blossom like confetti along the way, softly whispering, “Do not fear…” Water splashes over hewn and river rock, the fountain at the heart calls to meditate – wetness, the Source of our being. Each on our own journey, contemplate the age-old struggles. Meandering the winding way, our lives take shape. Nearing the center, griefs ultimately shatter, giving way to seeds of new life, pressing up from earthen floor to find a ray of hope. Leesa Birdsall, 2016 - after wandering the Colbert Presbyterian labyrinth.
The Sound of Silence Leaving behind the well-beaten path I fall into the SILENCE of the world around me. Little lambs, having themselves wandered, bleat noisily as I pass, until their mothers’, finally alert to their cries, blast “baaaaa’s,” calling back the strays to the safety of their woolen sides. Cattle laze and graze, great red-brown beasts, in the warmth of the mid-day sun, grass green around them, made fertile by their waste. They seem to ponder the goodness, chewing thoughtfully, undisturbed by my presence. Birds aloft, honk and squawk, caw and sing, carried to heights on drafts and thermals, dancing and diving; graceful pirouettes, while some are brought low to peck worms and beetles from the earth, hiding themselves in waves of fescue and meadow grass. From a hilltop I observe the ocean the color of priceless gems sparkling sapphire, turquoise and jade, spraying misty white crests in the ancient tidal battle; kissing beach and rocky shoals, as shells and ropes of kelp swirl in the ebb and flow of time, grinding to powder, soft sand bleached white by the sun.
Beneath my feet are fields of emerald sprouting golden buttercups and rocky promontories amid paths worn by hoof and boot, vague signs of those who have quietly passed far from the well-trodden highways and byways. The SILENCE is filled with sound. Voices hushed, the earth speaks, singing songs so ancient and beautiful as to make one weep, and leap for joy, at the grace of a hidden path. Leesa Birdsall, 2016 – written after a wander over the Island of Iona.
Retired Presbyterian Lay Pastor/Spiritual Director/Writer
As a recently retired Lay Pastor, I am currently enjoying time caring for my grandchildren.
A life-long learner and student of theology, I have several certificates in ministry, including one
in spiritual direction; as well as, a master’s degree in Theology. I view my current situation as
another “classroom” where I am being fed and shaped to do the work to which God is calling me.
Writing has always been a dream of mine, and I believe this is a season to begin pursuing that
calling. I recently joined “Hope*Writers,” and will have a poem and article published in
Celtic Nations Magazine, December 2020 addition. My deepest desire for any work that I do is to give
glory to God and to be a voice of hope and light in the world.